The last decade has seen the world continue to lose its forests at high rates, hampering efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the World Resources Institute (WRI) said in blog published on its Global Forest Watch website.
Despite concerted global efforts to restore farms, forests and pasture, deforestation continued to expand quickly. Between 2014 and 2018, the world lost another 120 million hectares of tree cover, while only about 30 million hectares of land is under restoration, according to self-reported data from countries.
WRI cited 2016, 2017 and 2018 as having experienced the three highest rates of primary forest loss since the turn of the century. It said the loss spiked in 2016 and 2017, mainly linked ot fires in the Brazilian Amazon.
However, it also pointed out that Indonesia had managed to reduce its primary forest loss by 37 percent between 2010 and 2018, at least in part due to government policies, adding however that some of that achievement may have been overshadowed by another strong fire season in late 2019.
Innovations in remote sensing and cloud computing have made it now easier than ever to understand what is happening to forests, WRI said, adding that these advances have also helped trace forest products and agricultural commodities throughout the supply chain, helping businesses responsibly source materials.
The last decade saw the beginning of the “de-commodification” of commodities markets, as once homogenous products are now being differentiated according to how they were produced, and whether they are “acceptable” or “not.”
Forests are a critical buffer against climate change, absorbing one third of the carbon we emit every year, maintaining stable rainfall patterns and moderating extreme temperatures. This climate guardian has been overtaxed over the past 10 years and is now suffering the consequences of a warming world.
The world has had to bear some 800 million people more than at the beginning of the decade and this additional population has pushed up demand for food, fuel and fiber, triggering dramatic changes to forests worldwide.
In the tropics, primary forests continued to decline while secondary forests recovering from past clearing are now prominent features of tropical landscapes. But even after decades of recovery, degraded forests have lower carbon stocks and less diverse species compositions that primary forests.
Elsewhere, sustainable management of secondary forests, plantations and trees in agricultural and urban landscapes will be vital. These systems can relieve pressure on remaining primary forests while expanding rural economies, improving human health, regulating storm surges and reducing the urban heat island effect.
In response to widespread deforestation and land degradation across the world, countries and NGOs came together in 2011 to launch the Bonn Challenge, an effort to restore farms, forests and pasture by 2020. but deforestation continues to outpace restoration.
WRI also said that the past decade has seen the rise of populism in both in developing and developed countries, and the world’s forests and those who seek to defend them have suffered from these efforts to delegitimize environmental science, demonize NGOs and limit access to information.
World leadership was faltering on global environmental issues, the WRI report said and although corporations and NGOs are making efforts to guide the world out of this environmental wilderness, the evidence of the last decade shows that well-meaning CEOs or data platforms are no complete substitute for the power and authority of governments.
In the coming decades and beyond, all of us will need to reorient ourselves to be more than just “consumers” or “voters”, WRI said.
“We must once again become citizens pushing our leaders for the change we want to see. “